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15 Must-Try Small Backyard Ideas

Lauren Nowacki8-Minute Read
August 18, 2020

A small yard is often easier and less expensive to maintain and provides a more intimate living space in the great outdoors. But people often overlook them, opting for bigger yards that they believe have more potential. When it comes to creating a chic and functional backyard space, size doesn’t have to be limiting. There are tons of ways to make a small yard just as functional, fun and beautiful. From landscaping to patios to pools, here are 15 ideas for your small backyard that will completely transform the area.

Small Backyard Landscaping Ideas

A small lot doesn’t mean you have to scrap your dreams of turning your backyard into an oasis of flora and fauna. It just means you’ll have to be a little more strategic.

Plant Container Gardens

Container gardens are popular among those who want to create an indoor garden, but they can also be ideal for those with little yard space or poor soil conditions. As the name suggests, container gardens are basically mini gardens inside various containers. You can use traditional planters or get creative. Put flowers, vegetables, fruits and other plants in baskets, old watering cans, decorative pottery or antique wash bins.

Whatever container you choose, make sure it has proper drainage so you don’t dry out or drown your plants. You’ll also want to pick a container that’s the right size for the plant you’ll be placing in it, taking into consideration the plant’s root system, growth rate and how big and top-heavy it’ll grow. Keep in mind your gardening methods as well. For instance, larger containers will hold more soil, which will stay moist for longer periods of time and better resist changes in temperature.

potted plants on gravel

Create Terraced Landscaping

Terraced landscaping creates multiple tiered gardens. Plots are laid out almost like steps. In fact, this is a great option for small backyards on a hillside as it provides level areas for planting. This can help divert water from your home without leaving a puddle at the bottom of a slope or creating erosion. In heavy rains, the water soaks into the soil instead of running down the slope.

Terraces are created by digging shallow trenches, starting at the base of the slope and moving up, digging the front of the next trench at the back of the trench below it. Each trench requires a wall to hold everything in place. These are usually made from lumber, masonry blocks or stones.

terraced garden in backyard

Build Vertical Gardens

Vertical gardens are displayed vertically instead of across your land. They save space and can draw the eye upward, giving the illusion of a larger space. You can achieve this type of garden by hanging multi-level (or tiered) planters, resting them on shelves or planting them right next to a wall to encourage the plant to grow and climb up against it. You can also create a living wall, which features plants and greenery seemingly growing from the wall. In actuality, the plants are growing from a soil-filled medium that’s attached to the wall.

You can install an entire living wall or hang smaller, living panels to an existing outdoor wall or fence, like you would a framed picture or other work of art.

vertical garden on shiplap wall

Define A Focal Point

A focal point draws the eye in and tells it where to look. It provides a place for your eyes to rest and gives balance to your whole yard. When it comes to focal points in small backyard designs, one is enough. With such limited space, even just a few ornate pieces or bright colors can become overwhelming or look tacky.

The right focal point will be eye-catching and stand out from the rest of your garden. It should also speak to your personality and the backyard vibe you’re hoping to achieve. A few ideas include a tranquil water feature, inviting garden bench, exotic plant, thoughtful statue or quirky art installment.

focal point in garden with fountain

Provide Visual Interest With Gravel And Mulch

Changing up ground material can help you differentiate between outdoor zones while creating visual interest. It provides a neat, finished look and can benefit the trees, shrubs and other plants it surrounds by suppressing weeds and retaining moisture. Just remember to keep the gravel or mulch contained to keep it from spilling over into the yard. Mulch or gravel in the grass can look sloppy and harm your lawnmower.

gravel under tree and between stepping stones in small backyard

Small Backyard Patio Ideas

You may need to build a smaller patio, but you can still enjoy the benefits of having one, including expanding your living space and having an area to entertain outdoors. When it comes to small backyard patios, a little creativity can go a long way. And that style doesn’t need to be sacrificed.

Opt For Multipurpose Furniture

When it comes to small spaces, multipurpose furniture is a smart choice. Think benches and ottomans that open to offer storage solutions inside. Instead of a fire pit, you could opt for a fire table, which is a table or coffee table with a fire pit in the middle that can be removed or covered to use the entire table.

brown patio furniture around convertible table and fireplace

Add Amenities For Comfort

A small patio doesn’t have to be minimalist. Adding beautiful amenities like umbrellas, outdoor rugs and cushions can make the space feel like a real oasis. These items can also provide comfort, protect you from the sun, bring in pops of color and make the patio feel like an extension of your home.

amenities, seating in small backyard

Use Tall, Vertical Decorative Pieces

Tall, narrow objects work well for small patios because they not only create more actual space but also give the illusion of a larger space by drawing the eye upward. Use tall planters for potted plants and hanging furniture for seating. Decorate with long vases, tall lanterns, palm trees and other thin, tall plants.

tall plant and vase next to hammock in backyard

Use A Mirror To Create An Illusion

Add a mirror to your small backyard patio to open up the space, making it feel much larger or deeper than it really is. Tall mirrors will also draw the eye up, creating another visual effect.

tall mirror in backyard full of plants

String Garden Lights

String lighting can add a romantic, classy or even playful vibe to your patio while maximizing the size of the space. And since string lights hang from above, they’ll light your patio without taking up valuable floor and wall space.

string lights backyard edison

Small Backyard Pool Ideas

A small backyard doesn’t have to squash your dreams of having a pool – or an epic pool party. There are many options to choose from when it comes to backyard pool designs that fit small spaces.

Consider A Lap Pool

Even if you don’t swim laps, a lap pool can be a great option for a long but narrow backyard. These pools are typically about 8 – 10 feet wide and at least four times as long, though you can customize the dimensions to better fit your yard. Due to its narrower and possibly shorter dimensions, this type of pool can provide a traditional in-ground pool feel and function at a fraction of the space and cost.

If you’re looking for a pool to swim laps, you may want to consider the endless lap pools that create a current against you, allowing you to, essentially, swim in place. These pools are often much smaller, starting at around 6 feet wide and up to 16 feet long.

lap pool with step and palm trees

Create A Shallow Wading Pool

If the reason you want a pool is simply to have a relaxing place to cool off, consider a small wading pool. And not the plastic kiddie pool, either. Instead, make it classy and permanent. The entire pool can be 1 or 2 feet deep or gradually get deeper like it does at a beach. Fit a lounge chair or two for ultimate relaxation.

shallow wading pool in yard with loungers

Install A Plunge Pool

For something a little deeper than a wading pool, consider a plunge pool, which is just the fraction of the size of a regular pool, but just as deep. These compact swimming pools aren’t meant for swimming or exercise. Instead, they’re perfect for jumping in to cool off or lounging in deeper water with an iced tea in hand. They’re often less expensive to build and maintain, as they don’t require as much water to fill as a regular pool.

back yard with plunge pool and two potted plants

Bury An Above-Ground Pool

Some above-ground pools can be buried for a small, circular inground pool look. This allows you to enjoy the benefits of an inground pool, like the ability to view swimmers, better socialize and run and jump in. However, you won’t pay as much.

Just be sure to consult a professional before you decide to drop an above-ground pool. Not all above-ground pools are built to be buried. You’ll also want to make sure you have the right climate and soil to do so. The ability to bury an above-ground pool will also depend on the size, shape and depth of the pool.

buried above ground pool

Start With An Adult Inflatable Pool

For super tight spaces, an inflatable pool is actually a great option because it can be deflated and stored when not in use. It’s also a great option for testing the waters (no pun intended) of pool ownership before you decide on a permanent fixture. Inflatable pools work just as well to cool you down on a hot day and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and depths to choose from. It may feel a little less sophisticated, but pools aren’t meant to be boring or stuffy. So have fun with your inflatable pool and toss in a few kitschy inflatable toys to go with it.

inflatable pool with floating flamingo tube

The Bottom Line

With a little strategy, creativity and maybe a few optical illusions, you don’t have to be limited by the size of your yard. You can still step outside into your own backyard oasis, and usually at a much lower cost than with a huge backyard space to fill. For more ideas for your backyard and other spaces in your home, check out more of our homeowner tips.

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Lauren Nowacki

Lauren Nowacki is a staff writer specializing in personal finance, homeownership and the mortgage industry. She has a B.A. in Communications and has worked as a writer and editor for various publications in Philadelphia, Chicago and Metro Detroit.